The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, July 31, 2019 1:00 am

Group speaks out against Medicaid rule

Implementation of work requirement 'immoral, unwise'

BRIAN FRANCISCO | The Journal Gazette

A Medicaid birthday bash nearly turned into a bust Tuesday afternoon.

A security employee at Rudisill Plaza threatened to call police on eight people if they followed through on their plan to enter the building and deliver an oversized birthday card and flowers to Medicaid staff at the Allen County Division of Family Resources.

After a brief discussion, the guard agreed to let Medicaid recipient Kellie McCann and the Rev. Karen Staton visit the Family Resources office.

“They got the idea. ... I told a lot of people why we were there, what we were doing and who we were,” Staton, pastor of Destiny Life Church, reported a short time later.

Staton is part of the Allen County chapter of Faith in Indiana, a multifaith organization that advocates for improvements in health care, mass incarceration and immigration. On Tuesday, the group was celebrating the 54th anniversary of Medicaid, the federal and state medical insurance program for low-income people, people with disabilities and elderly people needing nursing home care.

Faith in Indiana's Medicaid birthday card was addressed to Gov. Eric Holcomb. It stated, “Don't Take OUR Healthcare!”

Staton and other speakers at a sidewalk news conference along Rudisill Boulevard near Clinton Street criticized Holcomb's executive order requiring Medicaid recipients to work.

“By adding yet another bureaucratic process that people must comply with, the governor knows that for various reasons, people will not complete the application verifying that they work. So without having to do anything, he'll be able to cut the number of Medicaid recipients and then blame them for it,” the Rev. Timothy Murphy of the Plymouth Congregational Church said about the work requirement, which took effect July 1.

“We believe that this is immoral and unwise. Making the process more difficult to receive health care coverage is not a value we think most Hoosiers support,” he said.

Murphy said 1.3 million Hoosiers – 20% of the state's population – receive Medicaid benefits. The work requirement might remove 85,000 of them, according to Faith in Indiana organizer Audrey Davis.

Indiana requires Medicaid recipients be employed 20 hours a month. The number will increase to 40 hours in October, 60 in January and 80 next July.

Staton told about a member of her congregation who was informed that she was working too few hours and then too many to qualify for Indiana's expanded Medicaid program known as the Healthy Indiana Plan, or HIP 2.0. 

“Don't tear down people that fall on hard times. ... Just because you're down, you don't need to be stepped on. You're just looking for a step up until you can get better,” Staton said.

She said the state government is “demonizing people who are trying their best and need support.”

Davis said the government has imposed “tons of obstacles” on access to HIP 2.0, including a “cumbersome” website and a lengthy lockout period for people who leave the program but wish to reapply.

“We are here to send a clear message today that we will not be divided against our neighbors or see safety-net clients labeled as users or takers that have to somehow prove themselves when they are already trying the hardest they can,” Davis said.

Tony Henry, a social worker for St. Mary's Catholic Church, said the Medicaid work requirement “is basically putting another chain on a person's leg that's already limping along in life.”

He was accompanied by McCann, who told The Journal Gazette she suffers from an involuntary movement disorder that prevents her from working. She said she has been denied Social Security disability benefits and that Medicaid “is the only way I can go to the doctor.”

McCann said she has been informed that she will be required to work to remain enrolled in Medicaid.

“It's going to be a struggle,” she said.

Murphy called for people to contact their state legislators “and tell them to stand up to Holcomb, demanding that he undo this executive order.”

James Gavin, communications director for the state Family and Social Services Administration, said in an email, “We believe we have addressed many of the group's concerns in the intentional and deliberate design and implementation of the Gateway to Work program.”

Gavin said the program includes “many exemptions and options for activities that qualify” as work.

Exemptions listed on the program website include those for caregivers of dependent children younger than 7, caregivers of dependents with disabilities, the “medically frail,” the homeless, students and people with illnesses and substance abuse disorders. Work qualifying activities include self-employment, home-schooling, job-search activities, school and training, volunteer work, public service and caregiving services.

Speakers at the Fort Wayne news conference also expressed opposition to the state government's involvement in a lawsuit seeking to overturn the federal Affordable Care Act, which has expanded Medicaid in many states, including Indiana.

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